Introducing a second referee for inter-county GAA is worthy of “serious consideration” at this stage, believes Dublin GAA secretary John Costello, writes Tony Leen.
In his report to next Monday’s annual Convention, Costello insists that the difficulty with recruiting top-level officials isn’t a justifiable reason to jettison the issue.
“Have you ever witnessed a more relentless, turbo-charged, utterly exhausting All-Ireland final than this year’s latest battle of inches between Dublin and Mayo? And that was just watching the game, never mind playing it. When the dust had settled, another thought sprung to mind,” he said.
“Or rather, a recurring thought came back stronger than ever. Surely the time is nigh to introduce two referees at inter-county level – both football and hurling?”
He admitted: “I appreciate this is no easy aspiration, given the ongoing struggle to produce a sufficient number of highly-trained referees who can be trusted with inter-county games.
“Now, in one fell swoop, you’ll need twice as many – surely that’s bound to prove a recruitment and logistical nightmare? I still maintain that it’s worthy of serious consideration, perhaps initially for the early season’s competitions and if successful there, then at National League level.
“The pressure placed on GAA referees has always been high – too high perhaps?
“Over the last decade, it has been ratcheted up even more by the increasing speed and intensity of the game; by the technological leaps that mean every decision is parsed and analysed to the ‘nth’ degree; and by the explosion of media outlets, social as well as the traditional formats.”
Costello added: “It’s all very well for the armchair pundit and his multiple slow-mo replays. How can one referee spot everything in real time? It stands to logic that one match official positioned in either half would not alone lessen the arduous workload, but also provide that invaluable second pair of on-field eyes.
“Would this ensure that all foul play is punished? No.
“Would it prevent every single miscarriage of sporting justice? Doubtful.
“But it’s fair to surmise that there would be less errors. Of course, the sceptics would probably rail against two referees on the grounds that differing interpretations (in the same game) will fuel even more inconsistency and player frustration. We’re not convinced by this argument – having a referee in the right place, more often, is half the battle.
“We’ll even venture that having two of them will greatly reduce the glaring spotlight, and gargantuan pressure, on our currently embattled men in the middle. When the ire of supporters is dispersed upon two sets of shoulders surely you’ll be less inclined to blame it all on the ref.”
Meanwhile, Costello airs his thoughts on one controversial change that’s already taken place: Will the GAA come to regret the decision to end the Under 21 Football Championship?
“Previously, at this time of year, under-21 county football managers were shaping panels and stepping up plans for the fast-looming midweek onslaught,” he said.
“Instead, next February, March and April will be an U21-free zone. Arising from a decision of Congress in February 2016, the U21 inter-county football championship will make way for a developmental U20 grade, with eligible players to be aged between 18 and 20.
“The competition will take place between June and August, with no replays. Drawn games will be decided by extra-time, and, if needs be, a sudden-death free-taking competition.”
And there’s another change, Costello adds: “Any player submitted on a team list for a senior inter-county championship match that season will not be eligible to compete in the U20 competition.
“There are, of course, some persuasive reasons for all the above. The move is designed to reduce the at-times crazy fixtures logjam of early spring – and the risk of burnout for our young elite stars, coveted as they’ve been by various senior, U21 and Sigerson Cup managers. But have we ventured a step too far?
“My fear is that long-term the GAA could rue the decision to jettison an U21 championship that has been such an important springboard to senior success.
“Dublin, no doubt, have been huge beneficiaries and it goes far beyond the tangible triumphs.
“The confidence that flowed from our All-Ireland U21 victories in 2010, 2012, 2014 and finally 2017 has been something of a catalyst for further glories on the senior stage.
“It has provided a defined pathway for a myriad of players –not to mention a certain manager by the name of Jim Gavin.
“Our loyalty is not based on biased considerations. Would Tyrone and Mickey Harte have won their first three Sam Maguires (in the space of six seasons) without the foundation stone of back-to-back U21 titles in 2000 and 2001?
“Would Mayo have come so persistently close, this decade, without the array of young guns who came off the conveyor belt of their 2006 All-Ireland U21 success?
“My fear is that there’s a significant gap from U20 to senior. Moreover, the new competition’s height-of-summer timing seems bound to ensure that several U20 teams will be bereft of key players who, instead, are left to make up the numbers on a county senior bench.The new timing will also be extremely challenging for students sitting their Leaving Certificate or A Level examinations.”